Saturday, August 4, 2007

The despatch of General Hohenlohe

Victory Despatch

It was not beyond Peter to do a bit of spin, and below is the reproduction of his account of the battle, portrayed as a despatch to the Prussian King. As he commented at the end of the game "Well, we did our job, the fact that he mucked up his is hardly our fault."

From: General der Infantrie Friedrich Ludwig, F├╝rst zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen

To: His Most Excellent Majesty King Willhelm of Prussia

Report on an Action between Prussian Forces and the French Grand Army

It is my great honour to report to Your Majesty that an action took place today between the forces that you so graciously placed under my command and those of the Corsican Usurper, Bonaparte. After a relatively restless night, and mindful of Your Majesty’s desire to fall upon the flank of the enemy, I issued instructions to my Army to conduct a defensive battle on the high ground above the city of Jena. It was my intention to pin the enemy in place ready for your Majesty’s decisive blow to fall. My battle plan called for a Vanguard battle conducted by von Tautenzeim to hold the enemy around the villages of Closewitz and Lutzeroda. This would allow time for the remainder of my forces to form a main battlefront along the line formed by the villages of Lehesten, Alt Gonna, Krippendorf and Vierzehnheilgen. I was confident that our men would be able to hold back the invader until called upon to assist your Majesty in finally destroying them.

Unfortunately my men had become somewhat scattered and confused in the night, with many commands mixed up and units out of place. Thus, it took some little time to restore order and to begin to implement my orders for the day’s actions. While we were thus engaged, the enemy, using the cover of the early morning mist, launched an assault. The fighting at this early hour was particularly severe and Your Majesty’s Vanguard was particularly hard pressed. Indeed, it was only the stalwart bravery and fanatical defensive resilience of these lead Regiments that prevented the enemy in breaking through. On several occasions our men stood their ground against waves of cavalry, driving them back at bayonet point and saving their comrades from envelopment, capture or death.

I must commend to Your Majesty Generalmajor von Tauentzein for his inspirational leadership to the men under his command during these frantic opening hours.
von Tautenzein bought the time necessary to bring the rest of my Army into line.

I arraigned the force with von Holtzendorff’s command on my left; von Grawert forming the centre and von Zeschwitz our Right Flank. The mist gave cause to great confusion, which fortunately gave as many problems to the enemy as it did to us. I could hear the sounds of battle on the high ground of the Dornberg but was unable to discern what was happening. Against the worst, I ordered Generalleutnant von Grawert to send cavalry forward to support our gallant Vanguard in breaking free of contact with the enemy.

It was an inspirational sight, and gave much heart to our men, to see the gallant waves of our cavalry ride against the enemy. In this way, von Tauentzein was able to extract the greatest part of his formation from battle and then reform them in safety in our rear.
While battle had been building in the centre, the enemy had tried to infiltrate his way around both of our flanks. On the left, a full French Corps under Soult was attempting to find a route up onto the high ground and had found a suitable road to exploit.

von Holtzendorff, mindful of my orders to guard this approach, had sent forward some of his cavalry to guard the route. When these gallant troopers saw Frenchmen to their front they immediately charged. Little did these heroes realise that just beyond the crest was the whole of Soult’s Corps. They crashed into the French vanguard skirmishers and sent them hurtling back into the massed ranks of the enemy, shattering the enemy’s cohesion and pride. Having found and fixed the enemy so spectacularly, this outstanding unit proceeded to fight for its very life, there at the head of Soult’s men.

This action by a single Regiment held Soult and his Corps out of the battle for several hours. Your Majesty will want to know who these dedicated soldiers were, and it is my bitter pleasure to inform you that these martial titans were Schimmelpfennig Hussars. Regrettably, the unit was lost in the action, with only a few badly injured stragglers making it back to our lines. I am sure that your Majesty will find time to reward the survivors of this gallant action, and perhaps ensure that the wives and children of such German heroes never want for anything.

On the other side of the battle, the French had found another route forward and Augereau’s Corps quickly pressed forward to engage the skirmishers that von Zeschwitz had thrown forward at my suggestion. In a series of fiercely fought clashes amongst the thick woods and steep valleys, the enemy Voltiguers threw our men back. Unfortunately for them, their victories filled them with confidence and they burst from the woods around Isserstadt in pursuit. It was there that they died, as Your Majesty’s cavalry rode them down, killing huge numbers of them and putting the rest to flight. The French cavalry that was sent forward was shattered by the combined action of our Saxon light cavalry acting in conjunction with their Cuirassiers comrades. So successful were they that they also managed to sabre to death a number of French batteries before they could bring their guns into action. By the time that Augereau was able to bring up more men our flank there was secure and was not to be seriously threatened until much later in the afternoon.

The enemy closed up on our main battle line by late morning and tried to overrun us in a series of hasty and rushed attacks. Steadfastedly holding their positions, our men repulsed wave after wave of attacks and could have stood their ‘til the Angels blew their trumpets for the ending of the world, but that was not to be. Seizing an opportunity, the Corsican gathered together a massive number of cannon, and proceeded to inflict horrendous casualties on the gallant men in the centre of my line. At last, unable to take any more of this horrendous punishment, these poor lads pulled back.

Fortunately I had already sensed a problem in this area and had inveigled on von Grawert to send some cavalry to their rear to support them. As the French gunners moved forward to exploit their success they were charged by this cavalry and although the engagement was inconclusive it prevented the French making any more inroads here.
On my left flank, the French General Soult finally recovered from the debacle inflicted upon him by the gallant Schimmelpfennig Hussars and advanced to engage von Holtzendorff’s men. The French showed reckless bravery in charging our guns, taking horrendous casualties as they did so. They managed to force von Holtzendorff’s artillerymen back, but at the cost of many shattered and routed units. Their cavalry tried to outflank us, making their way to our north. von Holtzendorff sent his remaining cavalry to contest that area with them and a wild swirling cavalry battle ensued. Although the French came out of it slightly ahead of our men, their units were so badly used that they were unable to play any further useful part in the battle.

Over on the other flank, General Ney and his Corps arrived in the early afternoon and battered their way into Isserstadt. Despite a gallant and hard fought defence, eventually the French owned the town. However, as they attempted to exploit this victory they were met with massed musket and artillery fire that halted them. With our cavalry constantly menacing them they formed square and were pummelled mercilessly for several hours. The effect of all this was to put a dog leg in the French attack line around the village of Kotscau as their left was held, but the centre and right made slow progress. I could see an opportunity for my army to do more than just hold the French, and sent urgent word to Generalleutnant von Ruechel to bring his forces up as a matter of urgency. I felt that, if I could quickly bring them on line, then I could use them to launch a strike into the French line that would break it at its crooked point and split it asunder. von ruechel and von Zeschwitz would then be able to exploit deep into the French rear and roll them up. With this in mind, I knew that I had to hold the French attention firmly in the centre and keep him closely engaged.

Reluctantly I looked to Generalmajor von Tauentzein and his gallant men who had so valiantly bought us the time we needed as the morning’s early sun fought its way through the mists. With nary a backward glance his whole division moved forward to support von Grawert’s beleagured troops and stiffen the line.
And just in time too. As von Tauentzein took position the Corsican’s Guard appeared through the smoke and mist of battle moving straight towards him. If his lads had not answered my call the French would have burst through and all would have been lost. Confident of their martial valour the French came on, only to be met by the resolute vollies of our soldiers. The Guard staggered but still came on. Another volley decimated their ranks and forced them to halt. For some of these Frenchmen our Prussian fire was too much and they broke, running for the rear and safety. Guardsmen indeed! Not a match for Your Majesty’s Musketeers. I knew that this was our moment, the moment when we could inflict the crushing blow and looked for von Ruechel.

As I peered away to the south west an exhausted courier reached me to inform me that the division was delayed and would only reach me in about 30 to 40 minutes. With darkness gathering the fighting dwindled.

Majesty. We hold the field and had inflicted grievous harm on the enemy. If luck had been with us I know we could have inflicted a crushing and humiliating defeat on the enemy. Perhaps God has denied me this victory to teach me humility, and I surrender myself to His Will.

I remain here on the heights above Jena and await your further commands.
I am, as always Sire, Your Obedient servant


No comments: